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Sargent’s Crucifixion – New From Twin Books

Artist John Singer Sargent produced his relief sculpture The Crucifixion of Christ with Adam & Eve at the dawn of the 1890s, originally as part of a large mural cycle in Boston Public Library, Massachusetts, ‘The Triumph of Religion’; made of plaster, wood and paint, it’s still there. In addition, however, he produced many copies in bronze, some small, others larger (the example in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, has life-size figures)’.

This work is the subject of a new book, by me, produced by my self-publishing venture, Twin Books. While the book is small, it is an academic study, emerging from years of scholarship. However, the sculpture – and, hopefully, the book – is very important, I would argue, for Christians as much as art historians, for the reason that Sargent produced what can only be described as a unique image, that of Adam and Eve collecting, and thus being succoured by, the blood of the crucified Christ, as collected by them from his bleeding hands in chalices (older images had shown flying angels and saints collecting the blood, sometimes from his side). Small fig leaf clothes show that this is Adam and Eve after their ‘fall’, and they are not just believers, or members of the Church, but all Humanity. Sargent himself, it should be noted, was  not a Christian or conventional religious believer (indeed, he was part of that late-19th/early-20th century intelligentsia who were sceptical of religion and its institutions, strongly influenced by such people as Ernest Renan) – and yet somehow, such a person – well outside the traditions of Christian art – produced an image that is arguably unique among the billions of artistic representations of the most crucial event in the Christian story, indeed, arguably in all history. As Peter Burman says: “The imagery is powerful and original: Christ is shown at the moment of fulfilment. Redemption achieved, his face drained of energy yet strangely eloquent … It is a very personal and unexpected memorial [in St. Paul’s crypt]”.

Redemption Achieved. John Singer Sargent’s Crucifixion of Christ with Adam & Eve and its place in his work (John Thomas) is available in print or online from: http://www.twinbooks.co.uk/redemption-achieved.php

August 2017